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IS SOMETHING ROTTEN IN VATICAN CITY?


Published September 25, 2006
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In the spirit of a longlasting dialogue between Christianity and Islam, this scholarly essay tries to give an Islamic point of view on some controversial issues addressed by H. H. Pope Benedict XVI Lecture at the Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg. Tuesday, 12 September 2006: Faith, Reason and the University Memories and Reflections.
A multilingual bibliography as well as significant texts are added in the appendix of the book.


Year 2006
Language English
Collection opensource

Reviews

Reviewer: Karl-Reiner Riedlinger - - February 2, 2007
Subject: answer to Mr. ABDELOUADOUD EL OMRANI
Dear Peter (Raoul99),

I just happen to drop in here after a long time, since the INTERNET ARCHIVE let my comment on Mr. Abdelouadoud El Omrani disappear, and why should I bother to write any more text at a place where I am not welcome (I obviously share the fate of Mr. Aymen Chelbi).

But I want to respond to your appeal that we should do something for peace "instead" of discussing it.

Sorry, but this is what we did.

First, peace starts at your door. You add peace to us all when you help an old lady across the street and give a beggar some money.

Second, those who talk do not fight. Honestly, had there been louder voices in the United States of America some years ago, this Mr. Bush had had no chance to start his wars. It were the public discussions in Germany that told the then German chancellor, if he sent only one single German soldier to Iraq, he would definitely lose the next elections. The French people thought the same. These discussions in Germany an France saved lives - Iraqi lives, German lives, French lives, and we all can be very happy about that. So please do not underestimate the value of "discussions of the thinking", which I highly prefer to any "coalition of the willing".

Third, I am grateful for this little dialogue. Even if the dark, powerful people of INTERNET ARCHIVE destroyed my comment, I had the opportunity to learn the Muslim view, and today I took special joy to read that text of Uri Avnery which Mr. Basqual Sefardy put here and which gave me impressive new informations for which I am especially greatful. Though the walls of peace are firm buildings (not everywhere, I admit, but never lose hope!), there is nothing wrong in adding a stone or two.

I wish you peace, respect and happiness!

Yours

Karl-Reiner Riedlinger
Reviewer: raoul99 - - January 28, 2007
Subject: yes, we need a dialogue..
Dear commentors,

instead of long discussions:
I whish that we do something real for peace right now and in future.

Thank you for your help.
yours peter
Reviewer: Aymen Chelbi - - October 5, 2006
Subject: Why has my review disappeared?
To whom it may concern,
I recently posted a commentary on Mr El Omrani's article âIS SOMETHING ROTTEN IN VATICAN CITY?â published on your site.
I noticed that my commentary is no longer available online and has not been taken into consideration.
Could I please know why my commentary has not been taken into account?
Aymen Chelbi
Reviewer: Basqual Sefardy - - October 5, 2006
Subject: Muslim, Christian and now a Jew please
Mr. Abdelouadoud El Omrani the author is a Muslim and he has expressed his opinion. Mr. Karl-Rheiner Riedlinger is a Christian and he wrote what he thought. It's now up to a Jew to say what he thinks about the Pope Lecture in Regensburg.

"The Pope's Evil Legend
Mohammed's Sword
By URI AVNERY

Since the days when Roman Emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.

Constantine the Great, who became Emperor in the year 306--exactly 1700 years ago--encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included Palestine. Centuries later, the church split into an Eastern (Orthodox) and a Western (Catholic) part. In the West, the Bishop of Rome, who acquired the title of Pope, demanded that the Emperor accept his superiority.

The struggle between the Emperors and the Popes played a central role in European history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some Emperors dismissed or expelled a Pope, some Popes dismissed or excommunicated an Emperor. One of the Emperors, Henry IV, "walked to Canossa", standing for three days barefoot in the snow in front of the Pope's castle, until the Pope deigned to annul his excommunication.

But there were times when Emperors and Popes lived in peace with each other. We are witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week's speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush's crusade against "Islamofascism", in the context of the "Clash of Civilizations".


* * *

IN HIS lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God's actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.

As a Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the fault-line of this "war of civilizations".

In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?

To support his case, the Pope quoted--of all people--a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had--or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt)--with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

These words give rise to three questions:

(a) Why did the Emperor say them?

(b) Are they true?

(c) Why did the present Pope quote them?


* * *

WHEN MANUEL II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.

At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube. They had conquered Bulgaria and the north of Greece, and had twice defeated relieving armies sent by Europe to save the Eastern Empire. In 1453, only a few years after Manuel's death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.

During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.

In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim "Axis of Evil". Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.


* * *

IS THERE any truth in Manuel's argument?

The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur'an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith".

How can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this commandment was laid down by the prophet when he was at the beginning of his career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur'an. True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes--Christian, Jewish and others--in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act, not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.

Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits." The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to "spread the faith by the sword"?

Well, they just did not.

For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith--and they were the forefathers of most of today's Palestinians.


* * *

THERE IS no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi ("Spanish") Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

WHY? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the "peoples of the book". In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service--a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion--because it entailed the loss of taxes.

Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.


* * *

THE STORY about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims--the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of "Islamofascism" and the "Global War on Terrorism"--when "terrorism" has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush's handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world's oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers' expedition becomes a Crusade.

The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences?

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism."
This opinion was first expressed 25/09/06 in counterpunch. (http://www.counterpunch.org/avnery09262006.html)
Reviewer: A. El Omrani - - October 2, 2006
Subject: Answer to Mr. Karl-Heinz Riedlinger
Dear Mr. Karl-Rheiner Riedlinger,

Thank you very much for taking time to read thoroughly my essay. Any kind of dialogue supposes listening to the other: you did.

I also wish (on a personal note) that there's no grudge in your heart, there's none in mine!

Before trying to answer you, I want to express my deepest disappointment for one single feature you did not notice in the essay: humor. It's more parented to English humor, according to some friends; it's not German humor I reckon!
Ich muss dann erklaren:
- Montesquieu and SchumannÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂæ(13-16) is a fine reference that brings light to the essay and makes the reader enjoy it. It's respect towards the reader. It's like when you go to a restaurant and there are flowers over your table. Of course you're free to go to a sober fastfood. In addition, I quoted this passage: "ÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂfor instance, in [Letter] XXIV Rica describes the Pope as a "magician" who can "make the king believe that three are only one, or else that the bread one eats is not bread, or that the wine one drinks is not wine, and a thousand other things of the same kind". I was talking to the Pope, so don't you think that it may be interesting in a "smart" conversation to talk to him about refined German music and French literature and what people have wrote about Popes?
- For the nice film starring Jack Nicholson, One Flew over the cuckoo's nest (29-31), you didn't understand the allegory. But it's elementary dear Watson! Here's the full paragraph: ÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂNot bound by rationalityÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂàis really a deep lack of respect. But letÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs take it from the philosophic point of view and letÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs see what is the relationship, ÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂextrapolating from T. KhouryÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs statement- between God in the Muslim tradition and the famous film: ÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂOne flew over the cuckooÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs nestÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ? ÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂæTranslate, understand, i.e.: relationship between Islam and irrationality, since the latter was the theme of Nicholson's masterpiece.

I'm going to answer half of your questions (3-6 and 19-20 and 21-22 and 40-42 and 50) by a single quote, present in my essay (see the below mentioned Sheikh al-Qaradawi quote) that you did not (which is intellectually somehow unfair) cite even once, even though it answers half of your questions.
I was also sorry to notice that your answer was not academic because you played ÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂas mainstream Western media do- on the terrorism fiber (please allow me to suggest you other readings: Le Monde Diplomatique; Tomdispatch; Noam ChomskyÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂæ).
In this unfair approach (that's why I think you were really angry, when you answered!) you cite one killed nun here, one demolished church there, 3000 killed in New York and all those atrocities, that you tried with two movements of your keyboard, to endorse to Islam. It is somehow unfair intellectually and somehow unjust ethically!
The answer to all your blind and un-academic accusations stands in the quote of Sheikh al-Qaradawi, page 42 that states: Of course thereÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs a clear distinction to make between violence and the legitimate defence. And to make things more clear hereÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs what the absolute majority of Muslims think: ÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂConcerning the violence that some Muslims do, part of it is legitimate according to religions, legislations, laws and ethics, as the defence of the national resistance against occupation in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq or in other places. To call it terrorism is a clear injustice and a misinterpretation of realities.
Another part of that violence has been condemned by all Muslims in all places, as the September 11 events. Most of the illegitimate violence main reasons are the injustice that Muslims suffer in every place, and about which Western religious men do not say a word, some of them may even bless it.ÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂà(al-Qaradawi).

So, in one word, all people filled with love towards humanity fight on the same side. Period.

Concerning wrong translations from German to English of the Pope lecture, I'm going to ask you this: "Shall I rely on the official translation published on the internet for everybody to read on the Vatican website, or on yours Mr. Karl-Heinz? I cannot rely on yours unless you show me that you're the spokesman of the VaticanÃÂâÃÂÃÂÃÂæ"

Note taken for Goethe and Nietzsche, thank you!

About Historic context (10), my concern was not with 1391; it was with putting the siege of Constantinople in the scenario, when the Pope adds one sentence later: " It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402". You want it in Original Version.

About 32-34 you say: "The quintessence of this slightly confusing chapter is that Islam is more science oriented than Christianity. As we saw before, that was true 1,000 years ago. But during the last 300 years, most inventions were made by Christian scientists." I think that decency (Anstand) would have been better. Are you talking about the invention in the first time in human history of weapons able to destroy all of us? Or are you talking about the ozone hole and mother nature that's crying day and night? I wouldn't have said this, since nice things were developed too, if you haven't drawn that wrong conclusion.

I have nothing to add about Mary and Jesus-Christ, except that when I cite them I say: may Peace be upon them.

And before closing this debate. You tell me in such an authoritative tone to write Paleologus this way: Palaeologos or this way: Palaiologos.
I could have avoided to answer you, but since you seem to play the teacher and that this website is for posterity, let me tell everybody not to listen to you. When I search google with YOUR Palaeologos I have 53.500 hits; when I search with YOUR Palaiologos I have 82.300. But when I search with MY (so simple) Paleologus, I have 215.000 hits. So fans, write it as you like, and listen to the lyrics of the Pink Flloyds "The wall"!
But overall, please take it easy!

Salaam (it means bye-bye in Arabic and it means Peace too)
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